Tahiti’s expensive isn’t it? said a friend just yesterday when he was asking me to suggest a winter holiday getaway for his wife and 2 kids.
Have you been to Denarau lately? I replied. The last time I stayed there I dropped a few dollars on meals and drinks I’ll tell you!
I’ve been to Tahiti 5 or 6 times now over the last 8 years and have learned a trick or two about having a fantastic experience while not breaking the bank.
Sure, if you’re going to stay in a 4 or 5-star hotel and eat every night from their restaurant and down cocktails with umbrellas in them, you’ll be paying hotel prices – as you do anywhere in the world.
But with a bit of planning and some inside knowledge, you can be enjoying the best of both worlds.
It’s also a great idea to take the family to Tahiti if the kids are learning French as this is the main language of French Polynesia.
Comparative examples as at 23 Feb 2012 between Tahiti and Fiji?
5 nights at the Papeete Sofitel incl flights, transfers and breakfasts from NZ$1809.
4 nights at Fiji Sofitel incl flights $1412.
Eating and drinking in Tahiti
For dining options, you should definitely have the roulottes on your list! This is a must-do for the cultural vibe even if you don’t fancy eating there. Although you will once you arrive.
Down at the port in the heart of Papeete each night from 6pm the whole promenade becomes an outdoor food court. Caravans (roulottes) are driven in, up go their sides and out wafts the smells of sizzling tuna or mahi mahi steaks, pizzas, crepes and a huge array of eating possibilities.
About $20 will get you a steak and chips or tuna and chips meal served on a plastic plate which you take to one of the many tables set up with local families and tourists all hanging out together.
On Friday and Saturday nights live music accompanies your meal, then when you’re done, cross over the main road into town and finish off with a nightcap at one of the local bars.
If you have a car (or take a taxi), visit the supermarket Carre Four. This is a French Walmart-type chain where you can stock up on your cheap Hinano beer, French cheeses, fresh breads, and I was most impressed that the tuna steaks are really affordable for a sashimi starter or bbq them for dinner.
But for really fresh seafood, visit the Papeete Market in the mornings – the earlier the better. Here you’ll find fresh catches of local fish – including tuna – plus fresh fruit and veges as well as handcrafts, vanilla bean oils and hundreds of colourful sarongs.
Did you know you can stay in a camp site in Tahiti? I know, it’s seldom mentioned because overwater bungalows are all the rage. But indeed you can.
You can also stay in a pension (a B&B) usually run by a local family and most likely your back door will be on the waters edge of some lagoon. You can share meals with your hosts or fend for yourself from local markets.
To be honest, these are a bit toooo cheap and cheerful for me. I prefer staying in a nice hotel that also has a kitchen so I can make my own meals if I want to, store my gooey cheeses in the fridge and dine in or out.
I’ve stayed at Manava Suites twice now which has this facility. It’s a bit out of Papeete, but you can catch Le Truck into town for about $2 or a taxi.
Of course, renting a car means you really are free to get out and about and circumnavigate the island, stopping at beaches, heading inland to waterfalls, visiting the Paul Gaugin museum and braving the busy capital city.
Another great place to stay if you want your independence is on Moorea (a 35-minute ferry ride from Papeete) at James and Laurel Samuela’s place. He’s Tahitian, she’s American. He does authentic and ink tattoos from his studio and in the front of their home they have built a private bungalow, Te Nunoa, that they rent out, just across the road from the water.
You can use their kayaks and there’s a kitchen and bbq with the bungalow too. It’s gorgeous, stylish and minimalist and very “hidden away” if that is what you’re after, and their rates are around NZ$300 per night.